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Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 45–55 | Cite as

Ethical Implications in Vaccine Pharmacotherapy for Treatment and Prevention of Drug of Abuse Dependence

  • Anna Carfora
  • Paola Cassandro
  • Alessandro Feola
  • Francesco La Sala
  • Raffaella Petrella
  • Renata Borriello
Critical Perspectives

Abstract

Different immunotherapeutic approaches are in the pipeline for the treatment of drug dependence. “Drug vaccines” aim to induce the immune system to produce antibodies that bind to drugs and prevent them from inducing rewarding effects in the brain. Drugs of abuse currently being tested using these new approaches are opioids, nicotine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. In human clinical trials, “cocaine and nicotine vaccines” have been shown to induce sufficient antibody levels while producing few side effects. Studies in humans, determining how these vaccines interact in combination with their target drug, are underway. However, although vaccines can become a reasonable treatment option for drugs of abuse, there are several disadvantages that must be considered. These include i) great individual variability in the formation of antibodies, ii) the lack of protection against a structurally dissimilar drug that produces the same effects as the drug of choice, and iii) the lack of an effect on the drug desire that may predispose an addict to relapse. In addition, a comprehensive overview of several crucial ethical issues has not yet been widely discussed in order to have not only a biological approach to immunotherapy of addiction. Overall, immunotherapy offers a range of possible treatment options: the pharmacological treatment of addiction, the treatment of overdoses, the prevention of toxicity to the brain or the heart, and the protection of the fetus during pregnancy. So far, the results obtained from a small-scale experiment using vaccines against cocaine and nicotine suggest that a number of important technical challenges still need to be overcome before such vaccines can be approved for clinical use.

Keywords

Ethical issues on immunotherapy for drugs of dependence Cocaine and nicotine vaccines Vaccines against drugs of addiction 

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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forensic Toxicology Unit, Section of Legal MedicineUniversità degli Studi della Campania “L. Vanvitelli”NaplesItaly
  2. 2.Department of Biomedicine and PreventionUniversità degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”RomeItaly

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